10/25/2007 11:00PM

Juveniles open the fall show

EmailIf opening day is a fair indicator, and if big fields translate into successful business, the fall meet at Churchill Downs should be an excellent one indeed.

An 11-race card that drew 133 horses, including also-eligibles, is on tap for Sunday, the first of 21 programs to be held at the Louisville, Ky., track. The track is calling the opening-day card Stars of Tomorrow, a specialty program restricted to 2-year-olds and one that will be reprised on closing day, Nov. 24.

Churchill track president Steve Sexton said Friday that he and other officials are looking for the national awareness created by the Breeders' Cup on Saturday and a strong opening-day program on Sunday to create considerable momentum and help carry the meet.

"The fall meet has always been high in quality and in 2-year-old competition," said Sexton. "Our Stars of Tomorrow programs have been outstanding not only in wagering, but in fan support and feedback. Opening day should set the tone for what we hope is another excellent fall meet."

Besides a healthy dose of maiden special weight and allowance races, the Sunday opener includes a pair of Grade 3 stakes, both with $150,000 purses and to be run at a mile out of the Longfield Avenue chute. The Iroquois, for colts and geldings, drew a field of 10, while the Pocahontas, its filly counterpart, drew the maximum of 14.

The Iroquois and Pocahontas are the first of 15 stakes, 10 of them graded, scheduled for the meet. As usual, the biggest races are a pair of Grade 2 stakes: the $500,000 Clark Handicap, set for Nov. 23, and the $300,000 Falls City on Nov. 22.

Only one of the Iroquois starters, Sok Sok, has ever won a stakes, having captured a $100,000 race at the new Presque Isle Downs in his last start. Chitoz, from the powerful Todd Pletcher stable, has come close, having finished a close second a month ago in the Kentucky Cup Juvenile at Turfway Park. John Velazquez will be in from the Breeders' Cup to accept the mount on Chitoz, a Forest Wildcat colt who drew post 2.

Other Iroquois contenders include Court Vision, St. Joe, and Halo Najib, all of them impressive maiden winners earlier this month at Keeneland, as well as Mythical Pegasus, third in the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

The Pocahontas is extremely contentious, with the most telling statistic being this: 11 of the 14 starters are entered off a victory. At least several of those fillies appear to have plenty of upside, with the rail filly, Steamy Ridge, being particularly intriguing after two easy wins at Louisiana Downs for trainer Wes Hawley.

"She's an exciting filly," said Pat Devereux Jr., Hawley's assistant who traveled to Kentucky with Steamy Ridge earlier in the week.

Other obvious players include Sky Mom, winner of the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies for Steve Asmussen; Kadira, winner of the Bassinet at River Downs; Authenicat, a restricted stakes winner in her native Ontario; and Keeneland allowance winners Tequilas Dayjur, Pure Clan, and Valentine Fever.

The jockey roster at the fall meet is a familiar one to Churchill regulars, with nationally prominent riders such as Julien Leparoux, Rafael Bejarano, Robby Albarado, and Calvin Borel likely to crash the top five. Easily the most notable newcomer is Kent Desormeaux, the Hall of Fame jockey who will be riding here regularly for the first time. The trainer category is a strong one, too, with Pletcher, Asmussen, Bill Mott, and Dale Romans all set for big meets.

Churchill has switched around its fall promotions a bit, scratching its traditional chili cook-off while adding a "Halfway to Derby Party" on Nov. 3 and a "Derby Collector's Weekend" on Nov. 10 and 11.

Luke Kruytbosch, who first called at Churchill in 1999, will be back in the announcer's booth for his ninth fall meet.

Twenty-one days, encompassing four weeks, is as short as a Churchill fall meet gets, and that's only because of the way the calendar happens to fall this year. The 2008 fall meet will revert to five weeks.

First post Sunday is 12:40 p.m. Eastern, with the Iroquois (race 9) set for 4:34 and the Pocahontas (race 10) going at 5:02. The opening-day stakes are previews to the closing-day features, the $250,000 Kentucky Jockey Club and $250,000 Golden Rod Stakes.